Both Dame Joan Sutherland and Cesare Siepi passed away this year.
In 1959, Dame Joan Sutherland made her first debut of Donizetti's ever loved opera Lucia di Lamermoor. The rest is history. This singer will rightly be regarded as the definitive vocal performer of the title role to this classic bel canto masterpiece. And I believe, she will NOT be surpassed by another, at least during my own lifetime (I'm over 50).
Her first recording of the two main excerpts from this opera on LP in 1959 for Decca is simply stunning beyond description - I am totally lost in words to describe the performance.
Two years later, in a full-score set for the same opera, arguably slightly less shiny in tone and expression in the title role, nonetheless displays more confidence and bravura in the mad scene duet.
Human voices grow with age. For sopranos, the most beautiful age is before 35, if you consider that a dramatic role requires a certain timbre that a really mature voice would lack. Lucia di Lamermoor is such a role. The coloraturas need to sound fresh and young, yet poignant and dramatic. Mature voices may have bigger sounds, but less agility. In this 1961 recording, much of the beauty of the young Sutherland is still intact, though admittedly a little bit mushy in the diction, offering a slightly less crisp rendition to carry the highly dramatic effect in the big arias than in 1959.
The supporting singing cast is certainly not as great as the 1986 version at the MET, but they are highly adequate, with a luxurious casting of Cesare Siepi as the Lamermoor housekeeper Raimondo. The great duets between Raimondo and Lucia probably represents the only piece between these two great singers, and a significant added bonus to this invaluable recording.
For lovers of Sutherland and Siepi, miss this one and die.